12 July 2007

On mammoths

A well-preserved baby mammoth, my favorite of all extinct species, was found recently in Siberia. Reasons I like mammoths:

1. Like me, they thrived in cold environments, but not so much in snow.

2. They were the subject of one of the most famous pop-science hoaxes.

3. The ancestors of modern elephants diverged from mammoths around the same time humans and chimps split off from their common ancestor.

4. According to several web sources, "mammoth" comes from old Russian "mammut" meaning something like "earth mole." Evidently Estonian farmers who found the bones thought they belonged to giant burrowing animals that died on contact with the light.

5. If mammoths are like their elephant relations, they spent about 16 hours a day looking for food, eating food, giving each other food, fighting over who gets the food, moving to where more food is, and so on. Also like me!